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According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of California has struck a deal with Google in which the university will provide at least 2.5 million volumes to Google for scanning. Said one of the deal’s brokers, Daniel Greenstein, of the California Digital Library,

“I understand [Google’s] ends are commercial,” he said. “But it’s one of these things where their business model, their interests, and our interests align around public access for the public domain forever and for free.”

On a Google-related note, last night my friend Matt asked me the inevitable question: “So, I’m taking bets– when do you think Google will become sentient?”

Daniel Corbett


On this, my first day of law school, I’ve decided to spare all of you a law-related post. And since I went to undergrad at Ohio, a school with quite a large population of indie kids, I thought I’d write about Pitchfork instead. Wired has an interesting article this month about the “Pitchfork Effect,” a phenomenon by which relatively obscure (OK, so the more obscure the better…) bands become big overnight due to exposure in Pitchfork. In short, when it comes to indie rock, street cred is worth more than any advertising budget could buy.

You may remember last summer’s economic experiment by the name of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!. The 5-piece band did not rely on advertisements or large scale distribution. Instead, they burned a few CD’s (which quickly spread across the globe), played a few shows, and sat back, waiting for the self-generating hype machine to do its work. And it did; the band became the summer’s biggest band in virtually no time. The same logic has worked for other independent successes like the Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio.

This phenomenon, part social networking, part bloodthirsty marketing has even caught the eye of Rupert Murdoch, who recently acquired the website for its revenue generating potential.

Where’s the line between solicited marketing and “real” word-of-mouth? Is there a line to begin with?

In one of my PR classes, my professor told us about cell phone companies who would pay “undercover” sales reps to stand at public gathering places and loudly sing their praises for the product. Ever since, I’ve been at least slightly more skeptical of the ringing endorsements I hear. But at the same time, I want to have a “filter” like Pitchfork Media because it helps me sort through the best and worst of an area in which I’m interested but not an expert.

Daniel Corbett

Dan and Morgan,

I would like to look into this camera ticket issue a little bit further and offer some of my own thoughts.

I don’t believe that the issue is as clearly painted as you suggest Morgan- that “speeding is, on its face, a law-breaking act.” A speeding infraction should not be illustrated by use of a simple binary. Speed limits are not rule of law. Just as exceeding the speed-limit does not necessarily constitute a law-breaking act. There exists (and rightfully so) a margin of error for weather conditions, traffic conditions, driver conditions, and indeed anything else that can be proved to be a variable.

Speed limits are commonly set after consideration of any restrictive feature that may be present in the piece of roadway (such as a hill, dangerous curve, etc). It is only after consideration of these features that the stretch of road will be given a generalized speed limit that is found to be safe to operate vehicles (notice the lack of “Speed Limit 38.5mph” and the relative abundance of “Speed Limit 35mph”). A posted speed limit is a reflection of what has been deemed to be safe while traveling through a restrictive feature-not necessarily the entirety of the section of the roadway. It may be useful to think of a speed limit as serious recommendation rather than an absolute.

An Illustration:

Assume a roadway that is straight, flat, wide and clear of any obstacle that would impact the driver such as a tree or building or bump. Directly after this segment however lies a sharp curve. There is a posted speed of 25mph on both portions of the road. The speed limit was set by determining the maximum speed that a driver can safely navigate the curve, irrespective of the straight and flat segment. In actuality, it may be perfectly safe and legal (and absolutely provable in court) to operate a vehicle at a speed of say, 40mph during the straight and flat segment and still be able to navigate the curved section safely. This is where consideration of variables comes into play.

What are the weather conditions-Is it rainy or snowy, is it clear? Is it day or night? Is there traffic? What sort of vehicle is being used-does it have well-functioning parts that can ensure safe operation? Is it an 18-wheel truck that may take a hundred feet to stop, or is it a sporty two door that could stop on a dime? How are the tires? Are they designed for aggressive driving, responsive and capable of hairpin turns at speed, or are they old and bald? How is the driver-Is the person well-rested and alert or drowsy and not entirely focused? How old is the road? Was it paved recently or is it filled with pot-holes? All of these features and more are necessary to provide context to properly consider a case. There can be instances where it is wholeheartedly unsafe to operate a vehicle at the posted speed limit (such as during heavy snows with frozen roads). There are likewise instances where it can be absolutely safe to operate a vehicle well above the posted speed (on a clear, sunny day with a performance car and no traffic). Unfortunately none of this is captured by traffic cameras.

The presence of a camera that merely takes a picture and records a speed closes the case on necessary discussion. Traffic cameras represent a move away from particular cases in favor of a homogeneous application of abstracted principles-devoid of important factors that may contain the real truth. At least (in theory) it is possible to explain yourself and your particular situation to an officer of the law at the scene moments after the alleged infraction. It is an entirely different story appearing in front of a judge a month or so later with the sole piece of evidence being a piece of paper with your picture on it and next to it a recorded speed taking your situation out of reality and placing it in a one-dimensional universe.

Chauncey Keller

August 2006
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